Conversations about babies inevitably come around to the topic of poo. That is, except when cognitive developmentalists are sitting around talking about babies — we very rarely talked about poo. This disconnect shows how little practical knowledge I really have with a PhD. Sure I can explain a century’s worth of debate about language acquisition, conceptual change, and motor development… but do I know anything about actually keeping a baby sanitary? No.
So for me, one of the most daunting parts of having a baby is waste management. Given this, it may surprise some of you to hear that I am considering using cloth diapers (CP) when cogscibaby emerges. I know! It’s crazy! Why would I adopt such a high maintenance poo management system!? Doesn’t this decision scream inefficiency? Am I some sort of tree-hugging idealist? Is it really worth the $200 bucks or so we’ll save per year?
A few clarifications: (1) I do love efficiency… (2) my love of the environment and money is (unfortunately?) exceeded by my love of my self (aka, my time and energy and sanity). Here’s how I think of it — I’ll do things to save money and the environment only as long as those behaviors are not inconvenient. It ain’t pretty, but that’s the truth.
So why the cloth diaper (CP) thing? It seems extraordinarily inconvenient! Well, to that I have a two-part response…
Response (part 1) is, “Why not cloth diaper?” CP seems inconvenient in comparison to no diapering at all… but here’s the thing, everything involving diapers is highly inconvenient! Exploding poo, ammonia-concentrated pee, I mean, there’s just so much about baby waste that is cumbersome and awkward. The way I see it, the inconvenience added by CP is negligible given the enormous burden of dealing with a little person’s poo/pee to begin with. Plus, I believe there are two distinct potty-related tasks that can be made less burdensome with CP! That will be the subject of response-part 2.
Response (part 2) is, “Cloth diapering may help your life be more convenient relative to disposables.” To understand this reasoning, you need a little background — so here is a (totally made up) graph of projected inconvenience of disposable diapers plotted by age of infant (assuming 0-2 years). There are three distinct portions of the time table that are relevant to our discussion: A. the learning curve involved in diapering, B. the learning curve involved when the consistency of poo changes due to changes in diet (no more breast milk poo), and C. the inconvenience of potty training. I believe that in part A, there is probably more inconvenience in CP than disposables. However, the convenience pay-off for disposables may come in B and C.
Part B is inconvenient for parents opting to use disposables because for them, the biggest trouble is storing the used diapers until weekly garbage day (most CP parents just store the used diapers for a day or two before doing laundry which new parents do all the time anyway). Now there are highly efficient systems (clever genie-like contraptions for storing and spraying odor-removing substances on diapers) so this can be a pretty low-level problem. However, I have heard that solid waste is a totally different story. Parents are lulled into a sense of security by only dealing with breast-milk poo (which is watery and isn’t so offensive-smelling)… but BAM! Introduce solids and welcome to a whole new world of truly inconvenient (aka smelly) poo. But here’s the beauty of the CP system — there are these “inserts” for CPs that will catch the solid poo and parents can simply lift it out and flush it down the toilet! Voila! Only the ammonia-pee left to deal with. Okay — perhaps you aren’t sold yet… this may not seem like a good reason to adopt the inconvenience risk of part A. Part B is, admittedly, the weaker part of my argument. The superiority of CP truly comes through in Part C.
Part C (in my mind) is a nightmare. Training a highly-uncontrolled creature to control their bowel movements and to dispose of them on their own… AND wash their hands with soap afterwards… man, coming up with the grand unified theory in particle physics seems more manageable. However, there may be a reason to suspect that CP babies potty train earlier. Here’s why — disposable diapers, due to technological advances, are comfortable! Wicking away moisture! Keeping babies skin supple! These advances are really the enemy of potty training! Being comfortable in a diaper removes the urgency to learn to use the potty. There lies the beauty of the CP: they are uncomfortable. Cogscibaby and cogscimom have to be in sync, unified in purpose — for toilet independence!!! To provide further support for the importance of discomfort, potty training disposables are engineered to be uncomfortable (basically selling old technology diapers for a mark-up).
Now, it’s important to note that CP will only make the inconvenience of potty training arrive earlier, it probably won’t mitigate it at all. However, earlier potty training, means earlier use of the toilet… this means earlier abandoning of the entire diapering system! Can we say convenience pay-off?
Here’s the problem with this argument for Part C: I cannot seem to find any data for this… all of this is hearsay and anecdotal evidence. Perhaps this is a funding issue — the big diaper companies probably do not want to fund research that would undermine their industry. Perhaps it is lack of interest on the part of the scientific community. Who knows… but even given individual differences in babies’ tolerance for wetness, the argument seems logical to me… so I’ll keep my eye out for some hard data. Until then… here is my updated graph where projected CP inconvenience is overlaid on disposables inconvenience.
**Big thanks to Grace Bahng, fellow academic and current mom, who introduced me to the possibility of CP!